Trailing their Scandinavian peers, the Swedish government has introduced a temporary entry ban to the country in order to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus outbreak.
Starting from 19 March, the entry ban applies to all foreign nationals trying to enter Sweden from a country not part of the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland.
The decision was made immediately after the EU Commission called on member states to stop unnecessary trips to the European Union.
“It is an exceptional measure that should not last longer than necessary”, Interior Minister Mikael Damberg explained to the newspaper Göteborgs-Posten. “It was a relatively easy decision to make, given the situation we are in”, he suggested.
Swedish citizens or residents are not covered by the entry ban nor are people who have “particularly important reasons” to travel there, such as healthcare professionals and people who transport goods.
Others who can be exempted are those who have “urgent family reasons” and those who are “in need of international protection or have other humanitarian reasons”. The government made it clear on its website that asylum seekers will not be affected by the entry ban. “The right to asylum is not affected by the decision”, the government said.
The entry ban marks a striking U-turn, as Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said that closing the borders was “not relevant”, whereas Sweden's state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell called it a “completely meaningless measure”.
“I do not think this decision has a major effect on the spread of infection, as we are seeing a decline in travel. But there is a point of joint action within the EU, and we have a very strained position in Swedish healthcare. So it is not the right time to travel to Sweden”, Mikael Damberg said.
Tegnell, who has previously advocated for a “slow spread of infection” and called herd immunity “great concept”, predicted that the number of coronavirus cases will increase in Sweden in the coming weeks.
“We are seeing increasing numbers. We must expect more people in the intensive care and more deaths”, Tegnell said at a recent press conference, as quoted by national broadcaster SVT. He also called the total number of coronavirus cases across the globe which has recently exceeded 200,000 “a tip of the iceberg”.
The coronavirus epidemic, which originated in the Chinese province of Hubei and has since spread to 176 countries, has led to 9,000 deaths and over 85,000 successful recoveries.